Brown: Elected school board a good idea, funding fix a better one

SHARE Brown: Elected school board a good idea, funding fix a better one

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, | Seth Perlman/AP

With an election in less than two weeks, state government in a shambles and lawmakers looking for cover, this would not be a good time to accept anything coming out of Springfield at face value.

Case in point: The Illinois House voted 110-4 on Thursday to allow Chicagoans to elect their own school board.

In one fell swoop, House members overwhelmingly turned aside two decades of opposition by Chicago’s mayors to let the people control their schools, as Democrats and Republicans joined together in blissful solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Or just as likely House Speaker Mike Madigan allowed everyone to fool themselves again with a pre-election maneuver, the purpose of which we mere mortals may never know.

It became clear shortly after the House vote that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had not dropped his opposition to the elected school board proposal, which has been pushed by his nemeses at the CTU.

City Hall sources told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman that Emanuel has been assured Senate President John Cullerton won’t call the elected school board bill for a vote in his chamber. At least not right now.

All Cullerton’s spokesman would say is that the bill is “under review.”

I think that makes it safe to say the legislation won’t be flying out of the Senate next week.

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Just the same, I doubt Cullerton will be able to stand indefinitely in the way of a popular proposal that is backed enthusiastically by many of his members, no matter any assurances he has offered the mayor. After all, he’s no Madigan.

Then there’s the strange business of Gov. Bruce Rauner not discouraging House Republicans from voting for the bill.

Rauner had been an opponent of an elected school board until January, when he saw a way to combine it with his CPS takeover strategy as a dig at Emanuel.

The governor then declared himself an elected school board supporter, with one major condition: that school board candidates be prohibited from taking campaign contributions from the teachers union.

(You know Rauner, always worried about the unions being able to offset the power that rich guys like him have attained through their massive wealth.)

But there’s no such prohibition in the legislation that was shepherded through the House by Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago), with an obvious assist from Madigan, who is currently engaged in a mutually beneficial lovefest with CTU for electoral purposes.

There’s no real telling, therefore, whether Rauner would even sign the elected school board bill if it reached him, despite all that Republican support.

Thursday’s vote is actually pretty extraordinary when I think back to how little political support the elected school proposal had when progressive leaders began using it as an organizing tool a few years ago.

It’s definitely a sign of the mayor’s weakened political position right now in the wake of the police brutality fallout.

There’s a possibility that Emanuel, seeing the handwriting on the wall, would relinquish the school board in the “grand bargain” with Rauner and the Legislature that he believes is possible — after the primary.

But the mayor remained dug in Thursday, arguing to reporters that Chicago’s system of elected local school councils already gives the city “an elected school board for every school” which he described as “the largest democratic body in the country.”

He should have saved his breath. He lost that argument with the public long ago, about the time his appointed school board voted to close 50 public schools at his behest in 2013.

The mayor is right about one thing: The elected school board legislation doesn’t address the real underlying problem, which is meeting the schools’ revenue needs.

“The solution does not match the problem,” Emanuel said.

True, but I’m ready to try an elected school board in much the same way I’m ready to try term limits.

I don’t really think it’s the answer, and I expect it will create some problems of its own, but it’s something the citizenry wants to see after 20 years of total mayoral control.

As if on cue, CPS announced late Thursday that all employees will be required to take three unpaid furlough days to enable the system to withstand its current funding crisis.

CTU responded by threatening — again — to go on strike.

When state lawmakers find a way to properly fund the schools, then they’ll be doing something real.

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